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Labour's McDonnell says sorry for call to honour republican terrorists

By Andrew Woodcock

Published 18/09/2015

John McDonnell’s comments were attacked in Parliament by Nigel Dodds
John McDonnell’s comments were attacked in Parliament by Nigel Dodds

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has apologised "from the bottom of my heart" for the offence caused by calling for Irish republican terrorists to be honoured - but suggested his comments may have helped the peace process.

The senior Labour MP, appointed by Jeremy Corbyn to lead the party's economic policy, said it had been a "mistake" to use the words and accepted he had "clearly" caused offence.

David Cameron said Mr McDonnell should be "ashamed" of the comments when the issue was raised during Mr Corbyn's first session of Prime Minister's Questions as opposition leader.

The row follows Mr McDonnell's remarks at a gathering in London in 2003 to commemorate IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands that "the bombs and bullets and sacrifice" of the IRA had brought Britain to the negotiating table.

Challenged about the comments on BBC1's Question Time, Mr McDonnell said: "I accept it was a mistake to use those words, but actually if it contributed towards saving one life, or preventing someone else being maimed, it was worth doing because we did hold on to the peace process.

"There was a real risk of the republican movement splitting, and some continuing with the armed process. If I gave offence, and I clearly have, from the bottom of my heart I apologise."

He said he had been urging militants to "put their weapons away".

In 2003 Mr McDonnell told a meeting in London: "It's about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle. It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of (hunger striker) Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table.

"The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA."

In the Commons on Wednesday, the Prime Minister joined the DUP leader Nigel Dodds in condemning the remarks.

Mr Cameron said: "I have a simple view, which is the terrorism we faced was wrong, it was unjustifiable, the death and the killing was wrong. It was never justified and people who seek to justify it should be ashamed of themselves."

The shadow chancellor used his Question Time appearance to also apologise for an "appalling joke" in 2010 about wanting to assassinate Margaret Thatcher.

"It was an appalling joke. It's ended my career in stand-up, let's put it that way, and I apologise for it as well."

Mr McDonnell also said he had spoken to his party leader about the row following Mr Corbyn's decision not to sing the national anthem at a Battle of Britain memorial service.

"I said afterwards, 'why didn't you sing?' and he said, 'actually I normally do', but it was quite a moving event and he was casting his mind back to the war," Mr McDonnell said.

"The national anthem isn't just for those who are monarchists, it's for everyone."

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